Martin Brundle: On Max Verstappen's Monaco triumph, Mercedes' troubles, and Charles Leclerc's home hurt
In his Monaco GP column, Sky F1's Martin Brundle reflects on a race which lacked fizz and on a weekend which delivered sharply contrasting emotions among many of the grid's biggest names
Last Updated: 25/05/21 10:30am
It was F1's first street race since the pandemic, and for good measure in the south of France sunshine among the superyachts and supercars around the compact layout of Monte Carlo.
A Ferrari was on pole position. Serial hybrid-era winners Mercedes were struggling on this sinuous track, especially the reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton down in seventh place on the grid.
We witnessed the fastest Monaco Grand Prix in history leaving Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team leading both championships. Eighteen of the 20 cars would finish including nine different teams in the top 10, for what was surely a great race?
Sadly not, it was decidedly lacklustre for various reasons, as Monaco race day can sometimes be.
Losing pole sitter Charles Leclerc's Ferrari on the way to the grid with mechanical gremlins following his heavy trip into the barriers in the closing moments of qualifying was a bitter blow, an accident which both cemented his pole position from his first Q3 effort, but also ensured that he'd be a spectator by the time the race started with an empty grid slot at the very front.
Charles can turn some sensational laps but also continues to be prone to the occasional sizeable mistake, and this one really hurt.
He likes to openly berate himself, and so I suspect he stood underneath the podium celebrations with his mechanics for the entire procedure, which included his team-mate Carlos Sainz, to make sure he doesn't ever make that mistake again.
This was a chance for the young Monegasque to win his home Grand Prix in a Ferrari on the very roads he used to take the bus to school. He would have been thoroughly hurting on Monday morning especially as he can never know if and when such a chance will materialise again.
Much of the Ferrari hierarchy were in attendance as Leclerc's car failed on his out lap to the grid, and there will be tense meetings this week as to the decision-making process and how the problem was missed pre-race.
Almost always when a car hits the barriers reasonably hard, especially at a 90-degree angle across the rear axle, it needs a new transmission and the resultant five-place grid drop. Ferrari rolled the dice by not changing all the drivetrain and lost. It appears that something on the left-hand side had also been damaged in the heavy right-side contact.
The two driveshafts almost meet in the middle of the 'box to minimise their angle of operation for better reliability, but I am only surmising here if indeed it was the left driveshaft.
The default pole sitter was now Verstappen and wisely he had pointed his car towards the right and into the path of the faster-starting Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes-Benz.
Max also likes to park his car at the very front of his start box as far as is allowed, and why wouldn't they all? The whole combination allowed him to aggressively slice in front of Bottas to claim a lead he would only lose temporarily to his team-mate Sergio Perez when he made his one and only stop on lap 34.
It was a mature and composed drive to an easy victory for the Dutchman, he's the real deal now in that he takes risks when the rewards are high and crucial, but he otherwise plays the percentage game. He was livid when Leclerc's crash denied him of what he felt was a genuine pole position lap but, by Sunday, he was serene.
No 'win it or bin it' from today's Verstappen, which means he's a genuine title contender.
The race had lost another key ingredient on lap 31 when Bottas pitted his second-place Mercedes, which had been harder on front tyres than the Red Bull. But the right-front wheel was clearly enjoying the race despite all that because it simply wouldn't budge.
The retaining nut turned to sparks and dust leaving the wheel firmly attached to the axle. Even a hammer and chisel weren't going to sort that out quickly and he had to be retired. Bottas had driven very well all event and deserved much better on a day when he was the effective team leader.
Mercedes had pitted Hamilton a lap earlier to undercut Pierre Gasly, who was yet again doing a fine job in the AlphaTauri, except it didn't work. To compound a very miserable couple of minutes for Merc the pair of them were 'overcut' by Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin which stayed out two laps longer.
Hamilton was not impressed, especially when he was told that Sergio Perez, who started two places behind him on the grid and whom he'd barely seen for 30 laps, was now pumping in great times and had overcut him too after pitting on lap 35.
Lewis often says he never gives up, but he was certainly dispirited for a few laps and saying there was little point in pushing. He did engage once more when he had the luxury of a pit stop gap behind him to Lance Stroll and could take a set of soft tyres to claim a point for fastest lap.
Seventh place was grim for him but at least it was his 54th consecutive finish, unlike Bottas.
Nearer the front Carlos Sainz carried all the expectations of Ferrari on his shoulders and delivered a very mature second place nine seconds behind Verstappen despite some tyre graining issues. The young Spaniard was on form throughout and deserved this glory even though he felt it was a wasted opportunity for pole position and victory. I like that mentality.
Just as I really like the way Lando Norris is piloting his McLaren with great speed, consistency, and race-craft. On the royal podium alongside his mate Sainz was just reward for him and McLaren after maximising the potential they had on the day.
Perez's race drive was top drawer in fourth and when he sorts qualifying out, he's in for some great results. The fact that Red Bull lead the Constructors' Championship helps his case a lot.
With two cars in the points for Vettel and Stroll, Aston Martin had a very solid day out and the best result of their F1 history. A much-needed boost for Seb who was also voted fans' driver of the day.
Esteban Ocon once again was the top Alpine driver and grabbed a couple of points for his team in ninth place. His team-mate Fernando Alonso had a very ordinary weekend in 13th, and other than his spirited drive towards the end of the Portuguese GP has yet to look anywhere near his old self.
The average age of the podium dwellers for what is considered one of the toughest races on the calendar to reach the chequered flag was just 24, and this won't have escaped the attention of great champions such as Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen even though their stardust on the grid is most welcome.
Monaco GP winner Daniel Ricciardo had a nightmare event finishing 12th and lapped by his team-mate Norris. That made me wince so I can't imagine the pain he is feeling right now as he struggles with the characteristics of the McLaren versus his driving style.
It was a race without even a yellow flag let alone a safety car, and with the need to manage tyres for the first 30 laps it seemed rather drawn out.
However, the championship battle between Verstappen and Hamilton and Red Bull and Mercedes is beautifully poised as we look forward to Baku in just under two weeks' time.